But what does Intel get out of this? Well, there's the obvious PR win. They have gotten the last great holdout. The last rebel now is on the side of the empire. That's a PR bonanza, and I would not be surprised to see Intel doing a lot of marketing based on that fact.
But there's a lot more here for Intel than just PR and the smugness of having that last couple of percentage points. Think about that flat-ish sales curve for Intel computers that Steve showed at his recent keynote. There's two factors to that. The first is Intel's fault. It's really quite hard to convince most folks that they need to dump a 3.0GHz PC for a 3.2GHz PC. Outside of some vertical markets -- like multimedia, gaming, 3D design -- most people just don't care. I know that my company's replacement schedule is driven by amortization and other financial considerations, not technology.
The other part of this is the people using Intel chips -- primarily Microsoft. While Microsoft is very good at pushing Windows, and applications, they haven't pushed the majority of the PC user base to get a new computer since Windows XP, and that's quite a few years ago. Windows Media, applications that rely on Windows Media, and games may need faster hardware on a regular basis, but those don't push a lot of Intel tin. Moviemaking in the Wintel world is nothing like it is on the Mac side. The applications that make it as simple as iLife still aren't available on Windows. Tablet sales are still so small as to be nonexistent compared to desktop sales. And PocketPC/Smartphone sales are spread across a few CPU companies, of which Intel is a major player, but by no means the only player.
So while Microsoft is very pleased about tablets and handheld devices, the net benefit to Intel is kind of small.
Things like Office, and other mainstream Microsoft applications haven't had a major update in years, so they aren't pushing a lot of Intel tin. XP Service Pack 2 isn't going to push a lot of tin. If your system runs XP well, it will run XP SP2 well. Longhorn will probably push a lot of tin, but it's not coming out for well over a year to a year and a half. Even with that, a lot of Longhorn is being backported to XP, so you'll have access to a lot of the Longhorn coolness on your existing machine. Microsoft says, probably correctly, that Longhorn will run these backported technologies better, but as of yet, 'better' doesn't have a meaningful number.
Even if Longhorn is as cool as Microsoft says it will be, in the enterprise there will be a six-to-nine-month delay before widespread rollouts begin. In the home, you'll have an initial spurt, then a drop, with a steady flow of people upgrading. However, if XP is doing the job for home users, that flow could be smaller than Microsoft wants it to be.
So even if Longhorn is released on Dec. 1, 2006, the corporate world won't really start buying until the start of the second half of 2006, or possibly even the last quarter of 2006. (If then... Microsoft's success at getting customers to migrate from Windows NT 4 to the Windows 2000/2003 product line has not been a mind-boggling success.) For Intel, that's not good.
However, there's another issue, as well.
Microsoft only pushes new technology when it pushes Windows sales. As long as Microsoft's sales are where they want them to be, Microsoft, as a company, doesn't really care about new chip tech. Microsoft has never done a whole lot with SSE(2)/SIMD -- certainly nothing close to what Apple is doing with Altivec. Microsoft may have supported USB first, but Apple created the USB market. It took them 90 days after the first iMac. Apple helping to create FireWire was the big impetus for USB2. Face it, if you want to push truly new tech, you go to Apple. If you want to sell astounding amounts of existing tech, you go to Microsoft.
Linux certainly sells a lot of boxes, but they focus more on using existing hardware better and longer, if nothing else, for better TCO. And Linux is primarily a server OS as of yet, and servers are updated or new servers are bought based on functional or technical need. If you don't have to buy a new server for a couple years, that's great. Servers may have more CPUs per box than desktops or laptops, but their sales numbers are far smaller than desktops or laptops.
There is also a philosophical compatibility between Intel and Apple that doesn't exist with Microsoft.
Continue on to find out what IT administrators need to consider...